‘Too Young To Drink’. An international communication campaign to raise public awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

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Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause a range of lifelong physical, behavioural, and intellectual disabilities, collectively known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASD is recognized to be an international public health problem. The prevalence of FASD is estimated to be as high as 2-5% in the USA and some Western European countries, with higher numbers in some areas of the world. Although FASDs are preventable by abstaining from alcohol use during pregnancy, one major obstacle to prevention around the world is the widespread lack of awareness and recognition of FASD. Increasing awareness about the risks of drinking during pregnancy is considered the first step towards FASD prevention.

Numerous approaches have been taken to raise awareness of FASD around the world, but only on a regional or national level. Few prevention campaigns have been systematically evaluated, so the effects of these campaigns are not clear. Therefore, an international network of partners coordinated by the European FASD Alliance, in collaboration with the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) and the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (EUROCARE), organized an international awareness campaign, called ‘Too Young to Drink’, that was launched on September 9, 2014, International FASD Awareness Day.

The objectives of the campaign were: (1) to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy among women of childbearing age and in the general global population; (2) to spread accurate, research-based information on the risks of using alcohol during pregnancy; and (3) to connect the various entities working in the field of FASD all around the world, to share best practices and to create the basis for future collaborations and joint efforts. The campaign used theoretical models of social marketing applied to health promotion. These models are based on the concept of ‘value network’ and on the theory of ‘holistic marketing’. They develop the concept of ‘network’ and ‘relationship’ as factors that can give added value to health products (goods and services) for the community.

The approach aimed to spread information among the general population, sharing ideas and using the power of the Internet and social media. The launch followed the methods of ‘guerrilla marketing’, a strategy borrowed from advertising, which uses unconventional low-cost techniques to catch the attention and the emotions of the public towards an issue, e.g., by displaying or distribute materials in public spaces.

The goal of this manuscript is to describe a unique public awareness campaign that was accomplished without finances and included untraditional partners from across the oceans. The manuscript outlines how social media brought small groups together, tracked how the campaign messages spread and helped to evaluate the dissemination and effectiveness of the campaign.

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